What's all this then?

My name is Victoria Stiles and I'm an Early Career Historian currently doing whatever odd research / consulting / outreach / tutoring jobs come my way. I blog here about some of the interesting texts I've found.
My research focusses on books about Britain and the British Empire which were in circulation in Nazi Germany but you'll also find a smattering of school textbooks, witchcraft beliefs, bog drainage, bemused travellers and weird illustrations that caught my eye.
Translations from German are my own. Comments are currently unmoderated and are mostly spam for leather jackets anyway.

Friday, 22 May 2009

England: The Robber State (I)

I first came across Raubstaat England (England the Robber State) at a fleamarket a few months ago (and blogged about here). I managed to persuade myself that 40 Euros was too much to pay for 1941 cigarette card album but put up far less of a fight when I found it in a shop for 3/4 of the price.
Unlike typical British and American albums, most of the space is given over to text, making it more like a history book with the illustrations removed. It is, however, a history book with a very clear aim. Here are the front and inside covers:

The introductory chapter to Raubstaat England is called ,,Vorkämpfer der Freiheit" (champions of freedom). The title is in quote marks although there's no indication of who might have said this, or if it's a view attributed to a whole group of people. It's amazing how punctuation can indicate so much sometimes. The author (Dr E. Lewalter) starts with a description of his first English lessons, shortly after the turn of the century, in which he and his classmates were taught to recite a sea-shanty. Firstly, a bit of a dig at the unfamiliar pronunciation:
"[...] with amazement we became aware of which contortions the human speech apparatus, and of which uncleanliness the voicebox must be capable of, in order to bring forth truly English sounds."

(,,[...]wir wurden mit Staunen gewahr, welcher Verrenkungen die menschlichen Sprechwerkzeuge, welcher Unreinlichkeiten die Muskulaturen des Kehlkopfes fähig sein mußten, um echt englisch klingende Laute hervorzubringen.")
Eventually the class are trusted to recite the full sea shanty in chorus, pre-pubescent voices escaping through the open classroom window to declare triumphantly to the world:
"And 't is our endeavour
In battle and in breeze
That England shall ever
Be Lord of the seas."
I agree with the author that this is a slightly dubious thing for German children to be memorising and chanting in the middle of an Anglo-German arms race. On the other hand, he has beefed up the militarism in his translation:
,,Ob Schlachten toben,
Ob Stürme dräun,
England muß Herrin
Der Meere sein."
which, brought back into English, goes something like: "Whether battles rage or storms threaten, England must be ruler of the seas". This rather unfairly changes the song from one of ambition to one of jealous protection of superiority, which nicely sets up the central message of the book.*

Lewalter wonders why nobody worried about Germany's youth, even after World War One, being taught using such anglophile material, which he feels must have led to a creeping sense of awe regarding England's naval power. Apparently the rest of his old textbook failed to provide balance and consisted of moving and edifying texts on, for example, the death of General Wolfe**, the Battle of Blenheim (with no mention of Prince Eugene), and all manner of English victories, including against the Scots and the Irish.
Two impressions arose through exposure to this material:
1. that the English always had right, and therefore the sympathies of the young German reader, on their side.
2. that the English had always been friends and allies of the Germans; their "cousins across the Channel" (,,Vettern jenseits des Kanals")
So where is he going with all this?
"However different the experiences of individual youths may have been, taken as a whole one is able to say that the German youth before the world war was raised in a strange, almost resigned reverence towards England - to be followed by a harsh awakening when England allied herself with our enemies right at the start of the world war."

,,Mögen solche Jugenderlebnisse auch im einzelnen recht verschieden gewesen sein, im ganzen wird man sagen dürfen, daß die deutsche Jugend vor dem Weltkriege in einer seltsamen, fast resignierenden Englandfrömmigkeit auferzogen wurde - aus der dann ein böses Erwachen folgte, als England sich gleich zu Beginn des Weltkrieges auf die Seite unserer Feinde stellte."
Lewalter makes it clear that this attitude only applied to England and that it would be unthinkable, especially after the war of 1870, for French grammar textbooks to contain texts glorifying French imperialism. He admits that German sympathies for the Boers during the Boer War "cast a threatening shadow over Anglo-German relations" (,,einen bedrohlichen Schatten auf die deutsch-englischen Beziehungen geworfen") but this was not seen as grounds to change the way in which Germany's youth were taught.

Without knowing which textbook was inflicted upon the author and his classmates, it is impossible to judge whether his assertions are accurate or exaggerated. None of the pre-1914 English textbooks I have found so far deal so thoroughly with England's military history. However, the re-use of texts by English authors seems to have been common (quicker, easier, more authentic and no doubt cheaper than having German authors write sample texts from scratch) and the chosen texts were never intended to provide a balanced view of history, but to serve as interesting reading exercises. Also, this problem hadn't gone completely unnoticed before the 1940s, as shown by the foreword to the 1939 rewrite of Pleasant English II.

So that's brought us to the beginning of page two. The other 128 pages will have to wait.

*Interestingly enough, a similar process - that of interpreting a patriotic song as having an overly aggressive, expansionist message - has also been carried out on the German national anthem.

**Benjamin West's painting Death of General Wolfe is the first collectible picture in the album and has the following caption:
"General Wolfe's death in Quebec", a picture which has been reproduced countless times and is widespread not only in England, but also across the whole of Europe. The sentimental portrayal glorifies one of the most brutal violent actions of English history: the plundering of Canada.

,,General Wolfes Tod bei Quebec"
, ein Bild, das in unzähligen Wiedergaben nicht nur in England, sondern in ganz Europa verbreitet wurde, Die rührselige Darstellung verklärte eine der brutalsten Gewalttaten der englischen Geschichte: den Raub Kanadas."

Here are a few resources on the history of cigarette card collecting in Germany:
  • http://www.germancards.com/GeneralStuff/germancards.htm
  • http://www.franklyncards.com/one/german.htm
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cigarette_card
And this is a list of other albums published by the Cigaretten-Bilderdienst: http://www.worldcat.org/identities/lccn-n79-106295

1 comment:

  1. I teach history about 12km from Dachau KZ and I find it remarkable how much of their history German kids learn from British textbooks. Their own anthem is a case in point. In fact, it was written before Germany came into existence, and its main message it appears to me is that Germans are so busy quarrelling and fighting amongst themselves that they should subsume their pettiness into a greater dream of a unified Germany- that, above everything else. It has nothing to do with a nationalistic country taking over the planet.
    Mind you, as a Canadian I'm glad we were plundered by the British rather than the Spaniards, French, Germans or Americans...